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911: My Mother Is Non-responsive and We can’t find a Pulse
By Mary E. Coe   

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Potassium is one of the main electrolytes in the body (small chemicals that are crucial for cell functions); most of the potassium is concentrated within the body cells.

911:  My Mother Is Non-responsive and we can’t find a Pulse

That was my daughter on the phone and those were the first words I heard as I was regaining consciousness; except for the voice of my husband who was repeatedly calling my name.  It took me a moment to realize that they were talking about me. They actually thought that I had died, they were scared.  My husband said he was hurting so badly at the thought that he could have lost me that suddenly. They told me that I just fell back on the bed, my eyes rolled for a few seconds, then it just stared into space, and my body was very stiff.

It was Saturday, June 19, 2010; it was an awesome double high school graduation party for my two grandchildren, first cousins, a boy and a girl. It was a fun filled day. Good food and music and we watched graduation videos, and videos from Senior Academic and Sports Awards Nights. It was a beautiful day.  The party started around 4 p. m. and all the guest left by 8: 45 p.m. It didn’t take long to clean-up after the party was over. Around 10: p. m. I sat down to relax and have a movie night with my daughter and granddaughter. Around 10:45 p. m. I felt a little lightheaded, it wasn’t getting any better, it increased. I walked down the hall to my bedroom and sat on the side of the bed and attempted to check my blood pressure. I felt my body getting weak; I was having problems taking my blood pressure, so, I asked my husband to get me an aspirin from the medicine cabinet in the bath room.

Next thing I remembered was the emotionally, voice of my husband as he repeatedly called my name. My daughter was on the phone talking to someone, she was saying,”my mom is non-responsive and we can’t find a pulse.” I realized she was on a 911 call. Then, I smelled the vomit. I learned that I was unconscious for over two minutes; my husband said I started gaining consciousness when I vomited.

Paramedics were on the scene in minutes. They checked my vital signs and asked me questions like my name, my age and if I knew where I was. They put the IV needle in my arm, in case I needed to be medicated, then, I was taken to the emergency room.   The results of the EKG, CAT Scan and blood test all came back normal, except the blood test showed that my potassium was low. I was hospitalized for three days on the cardiovascular ward where my heart was monitored the entire time I was there. There was no damage to my heart, however, I go back to my doctor in one month, my doctor will be monitoring my potassium closely for a while.

Before the night that I was taken to ER, there were signs that I ignored, my entire right arm was getting numb, almost nightly for weeks. In the past I had problems from L4-5 and C4 disc due to an injury; I’m also anemic; I have passed out on several occasions, I have had a blood count of 6; the normal blood count is 12.  I thought my disc problems or my anemic was causing the numbness. So, I started back taking my iron pills. My skin was dry; especially my hands, I figured my hands were extra dry because I washed it several times a day and didn’t always use lotion.  I thought I would fix the problem by purchasing moisturizing lotion for extra dry skin. I also, experienced ringing in my ears which is still a problem. My thumbs rule is to never diagnose your medical problems.

My low potassium was the results of high blood pressure medication that I was taking. The medication was depleting potassium from my body and I wasn’t restoring the potassium that the medication was taking away. 

Potassium is one of the main electrolytes in the body (small chemicals that are crucial for cell functions); most of the potassium is concentrated within the body cells. A very small quantity of about 3% of total potassium contents of the body is also found outside the body cells. Normal adult potassium level is 3.5-5.3 mEq/l.  Normal daily intake of potassium is 290 -390 mg/dl; the kidney is required to remove that same amount each day; if more than the required amount of potassium is removed, the body’s total potassium will be decreased and will cause hypokalemia (low potassium). Normal levels of potassium are important for maintenance of the nervous system function; the heart function and the body must maintain the potassium level in the blood within a narrow range. A potassium level that is too low or too high can cause very serious problems. It can be fatal at times if not taken care of.

Potassium is a Natural Diuretic (aids in flushing the body of toxins and breaking down fat) it easily gets absorbed by our body and almost 90 % of it is excreted from our bowels and kidney. Potassium is a very important mineral which helps our body system maintain pH level balanced and proper level of water inside the body. One of the functions of Potassium is to keep our blood pressure under control.

In order for the body to maintain the right level of potassium it must match the amount of potassium lost with the amount consumed.  A healthy kidney can adjust the excretion of potassium to match changes in consumption.

In hypokalemia, the level of potassium in the blood is too low, many symptoms causes low potassium; vomiting and diarrhea, excessive sweating or adrenal gland disorder or certain medication like certain high blood pressure medicine that causes one to urinate frequently can cause hypokalemia.

Potassium is flushed out of the system by the kidney; certain medication may cause your kidney to drive out too much potassium. Kidney dysfunction may cause hypokalemia. Your kidney may expel too much potassium. Loss of potassium may occur from both the gastrointestinal tract or from the kidney.

Symptoms of low potassium are:  fatigue, muscular weakness, anxiety, acme problems, very dry skin, skin eruption, temporary memory loss, heart attack, hypertension, nervous system deterioration, depression,  frequent constipation, ringing in ears, constant thirst, frequent headaches, glucose intolerance, high cholesterol, insomnia, muscle cramps, recurring chills, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure ,retaining salt, rapid heartbeat, severe diarrhea, severe vomiting, and nausea that is not relieved by prescribed medication. A slight decrease in the potassium level in the blood may not cause any symptoms.

Diagnosis in made by measuring the potassium level in the blood. The doctor’s next job is to identify what is causing the hypokalemia. Serum potassium level above 3.0 mEq/liter is not dangerous and can be treated with pills to replace potassium.  Levels lower than 3.0 mEq/liter may require intravenous potassium replacement.

Treatment for hypokalemia: The doctor finds out what symptoms the patient is experiencing and treats the symptoms. Vomiting and diarrhea are common causes for low potassium, if that is the case the patient is treated to stop that problem. The physician will most likely ask for several test which includes, EKG; Blood test, CAT scan, and MRI.  

Usually, potassium can be replaced by eating potassium rich foods which includes; fresh fruits: oranges, bananas, watermelon, strawberries, kiwi, apricots, cantaloupe and eat avocados, potato, beans, dried fruits, meat, grapes, eat fresh vegetables; tomato, beets, mushrooms, cereal that’s high in potassium.  

Your potassium can’t be too high either. Both high and low potassium can be very dangerous. HYPERKALEMIA ; the level of potassium in the blood is too high. Usually, hyperkalemia must be severe before it causes symptoms. The symptoms are mainly abnormal heart rhythms. The consumption of too much supplemental potassium, drugs that affects the kidney function and kidney disorders are some causes of high potassium level in the blood. Hyperkalemia can be  detected through blood test or electrocardiography. 

Treatments includes: drugs that increase potassium excretion; stopping drugs that causes the symptoms and reducing consumption of potassium. Hyperkalemia are usually caused by kidney failure that prevents the kidney from excreting enough potassium. A diet high in potassium can cause hyperkalemia. Treatments that contain potassium may cause a high potassium level. If you think you are having symptoms of low potassium or high potassium, seek medical treatment immediately. Talk to your doctor to learn more about potassium.





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